Review: Indian Summer24 Oct 2018 0
Review: Indian Summer
Released 18 Oct 2018
Every year over-optimistic newspaper headlines promise an Indian summer, only for August to be meekly followed by a shivery and soggy September. Happily, when Pocket Tactics promises an Indian summer we are true to our word. So, pull on your boots and let’s take a timely hike through the glorious autumnal woodland of New England.
Indian Summer is the second part of Uwe Rosenberg's puzzle trilogy and follows 2016's Cottage Garden, strangely Uwe’s Patchwork, which shares many similarities isn’t considered part of the series. The game shares the same tile-laying, grid-filling gameplay of the aforementioned titles but this time the action is geared towards more experienced players.
The aim of Indian Summer is to fill your section of the forest floor with leaf tiles, foraging for “treasures” and attracting wildlife as you go. Each player has a forest board that is divided into six sections. Boards feature a random assortment of mushrooms, berries, nuts and feathers that once collected can be used to trigger special powers.
Players begin the game with a collection of five leaf tiles; these are Tetris-style pieces that players take turns placing on their boards. Tiles are colour coded and are three, four or five squares in size. The innovation is that much like a Polo mint, each tile has a hole. Ideally, you want to place a tile so that a woodland treasure can be seen through the hole. When a player manages to complete an entire section of the board all of the visible treasures in that sector will be harvested.
Mushrooms, berries, nuts and feathers may not be most people’s idea of treasures, but in Indian Summer they can prove to be extremely useful. Normally, you only refill your store of tiles when you place your fifth and final one, but use a berry and you can replenish your supply right away. Since there is a visible trail of tiles, you will know exactly which tiles you will be drafting, so you do not have to rely on a blind draw. Nuts attract squirrels, which can be placed on your board to fill a single square. Mushrooms allow you to steal a tile from two other players and immediately place them. Feathers allow a player to place two tiles from their supply in a single turn. You can exchange treasures based on their respective values, for instance, it would cost three berries to acquire a single feather.
Woodland wouldn’t be woodland without its fair share of critters. On your turn instead of laying a tile, you can instead place a squirrel. These are useful to fill those spaces that are too small to accommodate a leaf tile. There are also seven other types of animal tile that you can attract to your woodland habitat. Only one of these can be placed each turn and their numbers are strictly limited. Animal tiles can only be placed if you can overlay their shape with the corresponding vacant holes on your player board. Placing an animal over harvested treasures has the benefit of allowing them to be collected for the second time.
Indian Summer is a pure race game; there is no point scoring to worry about. The end of the game is triggered as soon as a player completes their board. The current round is played out to its conclusion before everyone has a final opportunity to trade in their treasures for squirrels, which can be used to fill in gaps. Players who are still unable to complete their forest floor lose. If more than one player has finished their woodland then the player who has the most remaining nuts wins.
By now, Digidiced have pretty much nailed the tile-laying format. The game is well laid out and the controls are both smooth and responsive. There are still a couple of niggles: the tutorial could be clearer in places and the way that the interface handles the exchange of treasures takes some getting used to, however these are very minor faults. The presentation is charming with some cute animal animations and a lovely autumnal palette that replicates the board game perfectly. The laid-back acoustic music also complements the mellow atmosphere. The menu options adhere closely to the Digidiced standard, with pass and play, casual and ranked online matches available. The AI will give new players a decent challenge, although on the hardest level it does require a bit of thinking time.
A range of different player boards enhances replayability, although games do tend to follow a similar path. Indian Summer is a race, so acquiring the feather and doubling down by ensuring that you can overlay it with an animal tile, seems like a pretty solid way to go. Luck only plays a small part, and the deceptively simple but nuanced gameplay should appeal to a wide range of players. The tile stealing aspect may put some players off, but in fact, it feels more like an opportunity for the stealer to place an extra tile rather than a way of scuppering your opponents. The game plays well at all player counts, although pass and play games can grind to a halt if you include players who have a tendency to over-analyse their moves.
Indian Summer is yet another high quality digital board game conversion. The ability to swap and change treasures really adds an extra dimension to the tile placement gameplay. Choosing the perfect moment to use a mushroom to snatch a couple of juicy tiles from your opponents is highly satisfying. The exchange mechanic will also have you thinking, as you weigh up the benefits of using a berry to refill your hand, or save up and trade them in for something potentially more powerful. Players are not only racing to fill their board but also to complete and harvest individual sectors. So, although the general atmosphere is fairly laid back there is still a tangible tension to proceedings.